Category Archives: Miscellaneous

oh god how did i get here i not very good with compute

About abusive friendships

From MOCA's Art in the Streets exhibit (2011). Photo credit: yours truly.

From MOCA’s Art in the Streets exhibit (2011). Photo credit: yours truly.

There is a name I can’t speak.

It burns and contorts my tongue when I think of it. This guy. Formerly my friend. Nowadays, if I name him at all, it’s as ‘my abuser.’

I mute his name on all my social media, I’ve delisted his sites from my RSS reader, I close pages where his work appears. Even seeing his initials, sometimes, produces the sensation of cold wrought iron fingers closing around my throat.

I don’t know how to describe these reactions except as a form of PTSD. When I’m reminded he exists, I start to shut down mentally, emotionally, physically. I can’t do my work or, on the weekends, like I’m trying to do now, read articles for Critical Distance. Sometimes I find more than half an hour has passed with me staring into space, breathing minimally, recollections and self-judgments rattling around in my skull.

The worst of it is that, cornered into confessing my pain to someone, I can’t not say his name, even given the inevitable fallout. I have to identify him to close confidants, explain what he did to my head, why I refuse to read about him or link to articles with him. Again and again, one on one in these furtive dark alleys of Tweetdeck DMs or emails, because I’m too fucking afraid of the reprisal if I just said his name, out for everyone to see.

Because he’s a man, and I am not.

Because even if I had friends to support me it would create “drama.”

Because reliving what he did to me for a few hours or days out of a week is better than reliving it every single day of my life until I give up and quit the field, as I’ve seen happen to so many other people.

Because flinching and shutting down for a while is not as terrifying as the thought of publicly telling off a big site for linking to the work of a toxic misogynist and his us-versus-them diatribes.

Because I keep hoping that to deny the problem my attention is the same as denying oxygen to a fire.

Because I want to believe that I’m bigger than him, that what little good I’ve done in my life-to-date is more than he will make out of his campaigns of toxicity.

Because it’s fucking videogames.

Because I just want it to go away.

I’ve had friendships turn sour on the internet before. This is the first one who, upon being told that I didn’t see things exactly his way, told me that I was his enemy and worse, The Enemy, the leader of an opposing faction in some war he believes he’s fighting.

‘That’s how a child thinks,’ I thought to myself when things first fell apart. But children even at their cruelest don’t have the capacity for that deft sort of manipulation to twist a knife just so in a person’s head, like he did with me. I’m honestly scared of him — and I’m mortified whenever I see he’s been given a platform.

But if I spoke up I would be causing drama, I would be in the wrong. Even in the very best case it would involve having to see my abuser’s name again, and again, more than I ever wanted.

Cripes, I’ve avoided giving any identifying details about him here at all and I’m still terrified that he’ll find and comment on this, or send me an email, or launch a renewed campaign against me. But for as scared as I am I’m exhausted from dancing around the bare and simple fact that I have a scar. The fact that it’s not in a place where anyone can see doesn’t mean it hurts any less.

(They say the best revenge is living well and that’s all that I’ve tried to do. It’s what I’ll keep doing after I push ‘publish’ on this. All this is, all it’s been for, is to try to cleave away some of this dead tissue and move on.)

GDC, Critical Distance, scout badges, etc

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A few items.

I will be at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco again this year. It’s next week, so if you needed to make travel arrangements based on that piece of information… um. Oops. I’ll try to remind folks earlier next time.

Additionally, I will be giving two talks adjacent to the conference this year. The first will be at Critical Proximity, the very first games criticism and games studies conference being organized by Zoya Street. My talk will be on Critical Distance’s curation policy and will briefly touch upon some of the stuff that’s happened recently (which I’ll get into below). The other talk will be at Lost Levels and is just a small, casual thing about exploring asexuality in games. Please check the events’ websites for more info.

If you’re going to be around and happen to spot me (I made my haircut very easy to recognize this year), come say hi. I have little ‘bits of flair’ (mainly Night Vale scout buttons but also a few iron-on game patches and other things) that I’m giving away, just for fun.

Next thing. You can now help fund Critical Distance through Patreon. We’ve already raised enough to bring me on as senior curator full-time, and I really cannot thank everyone enough for making that happen. Everything we raise from here on out will go toward accelerating the expansion projects I outlined a few months ago, plus a few more I have up our sleeves.

One of the first orders of business will be the wiki, because we already have a wiki guy (hi Erik) and the whole thing is basically ready, we just haven’t had the opportunity to launch it. So keep an eye out for that.

Finally: I’m no longer doing news for Gamasutra. This relates to the previous point about doing Critical Distance full-time. I’m still doing freelance gigs and you’ll be seeing one of my first big print features in Official Xbox Magazine soon, but please refer to Gama’s official contact page about getting things onto that site.

(And yes, I know it still lists me as a news editor on that page, but I’m sure they’ll get to that at some point.)

These last few months have been really rocky which is the main reason I’ve been negligent about updating the blog. I’m really excited about the new direction my life’s taken lately and I hope to have more to share with you all soon.

The tools of my craft

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When I was 22, I woke up one morning with a pinched nerve in my right shoulder. My entire arm was numb and unresponsive to all commands from my brain.

A bit of flexing and exercising (led by an anaesthesiologist friend) returned control of my arm to me within 20 minutes, but up until that time every nightmare scenario I could imagine played through my mind. How could I take notes for class? How could I handle camera equipment? How could I type or sign my name or — and this was most devastating of all — draw?

I’m in envy of the ambidextrous. I can’t even use a mouse with my left hand without something in my brain coming unscrewed. Since this incident, I’ve had fits of trying to train my off hand to do the work of its sibling, with only modest success. When the Major folded origami cranes with her left hand in Stand Alone Complex (above), I was driven to emulate, and now I’m a damn champ. But a lot of things — typing with any proficiency, and especially art — completely elude my left hand, and probably always will.

Fast-forward to the present year. I’ve been experiencing soreness in my right hand since at least September. I kept meaning to go to a doctor, but you know how it is, working an 8-5. I told myself I’d get the time to recuperate after GDC Next, when I had a week’s vacation lined up. If I came home from vacation still experiencing stiffness and pain, I could look into scheduling a doctor’s appointment then.

The next week I was laid off.

Now… I could rant a bit about getting laid off from Gama. That the job I was so excited about would terminate mere months after I started it. I look back at the post I wrote shortly after accepting the position and cringe at all the naive optimism on display. But my editor has been endlessly supportive, the dismissal is not a reflection of the quality of work I was performing, and as you might have guessed, I am writing all of this, painstakingly, with one hand, so I really don’t want to belabor the issue past its due.

But do you have any idea how much writing you do when searching for a job?

Part of it was my fault. A lot of late-night livetweeting of TV shows and origami — still my go-to hobby when nervous or depressed. But a large part of it were the job apps, filing with recruiter sites, searching for housing and researching unemployment, and so on. Here and there I defaulted back to doing visual art to take my mind off things, but that only exacerbated the level of injury. Somehow, without planning to, I was right back to living out those nightmare scenarios I’d entertained in college.

And then today, after a nasty flare-up while out on errands, and wrenching it badly on the bus on the way home, I found I couldn’t use my right hand at all. At least, not without tremendous pain and discomfort.

It’s two days before Christmas, so seeing a doctor is right out. I don’t know if I can afford one anyway. With some of my donor rewards still outstanding from the crowdfunding I did to get to GDC — you know, the trip that was supposed to help me get a new job, and succeeded at just that; too bad the job only lasted a few months — I’m strongly against the idea of asking for help from my online friends and peers. I write this here just to get across the particular pain and frustration of losing the one meaningful tool I have for making a living, at a time when I need it most.

If I believed in higher powers, I would take this as a sign that I had deeply offended one. Chopping off my hand would be a mercy at this point, next to having the thing hang uselessly at my side like this.

How the other side lives (and the other side is me)

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(Content warning: harassment, misogynistic slurs.)

This is not another personal account of pervasive sexual harassment on the internet.

All the same, I need to put a few things in context. A couple days ago I noticed a Twitter troll was harassing several women including GameSpot writer Carolyn Petit and those he found standing up for her. I tweeted a link to Twitter’s report form for abusive users and attached a screencap of one of the things he’d said. After 50 or so retweets (thanks), he found me, and began an off-and-on assault of tweets calling me a slut, saying I would feature in an anal sex minigame in the next Grand Theft Auto, and announcing he would kill me and get his money back from my apparent prostitution services.

This is the first time I have experienced this.

Continue reading

Animal Crossing QR Code Geekery, Part 2

While I cast about for the time to work on some more of my own designs, I thought I’d share a few of the outfits I’ve been enjoying from other ACNL creators.

You can click on each image to be sent to the source page for the full set of QR codes and more of the artist’s work. Which you should do, by the way.

Utena Tenjou and Anthy Himemiya’s outfits from Revolutionary Girl Utena
(found via Anne Lee)

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Rapunzel from Tangled

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Shingeki no Kyojin uniforms HECK YEAH

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*Mute’s hanbok and *Hyun-ae’s school uniform from Analogue: A Hate Story
(found via Christine Love)

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School uniforms from Persona 3 and Persona 4

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Various traditional East Asian attire (mostly kimono and hanbok) and riffs thereon

by Hiyoko (found via Anne Lee):

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by merongcrossing:

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by yaenomuteki (warning: some designs on the blog might be considered a bit risque):

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found via newleaf-fashion:

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(attribution needed)

from cocoa82551:

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Other outfits and costumes

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For all your grimdark roleplaying needs

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Animal Crossing QR Code Geekery, Part 1

Quick post, and the first of several, I hope. If you’ve been reading me on Twitter you know that I am a teensy bit obsessed with Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’ve been happily designing little outfits for my mayor since I discovered the option to do so, and now that I’ve unlocked the QR Printer at Able Sisters, well!

So, in honor of Tron Day, have a bit of Tron Couture, plus a Sailor Moon fuku and a (completely unisex!) TNG Starfleet miniskirt.

“Tron Couture”
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Sailor Moon serafuku
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Unisex Starfleet Miniskirt (Command, TNG)
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Also, if you’re looking for more ACNL QR designs, I highly recommend the stuff Anne Lee has been curating! I’m currently wearing one of the summer yukata featured here.

Well played, Internet.

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That’s it. The Internet is officially over. We can all go home now.

Gone Funded Me

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So, this was a thing.

I was expecting, by today, to be doing a blog post in which I urgently requested my readers to take some time out of their day to look over my GoFundMe page and consider kicking in a dollar or two toward my trip to GDC, which in addition to being something of a game journo/dev Mecca also offers a pretty big career opportunity for me, as an MMO community lead wanting to work on Some Game Other Than The One For Which I Currently Work. I was expecting to get maybe 50 dollars or, at best, barely squeak by with enough donations to cover the wages I would lose out during my days on the road… I certainly wasn’t expecting to completely meet our funding target in less than 24 hours, or for the outpouring of support from friends and colleagues even after that to help improve the quality of the trip, work off Jason’s vet bills and make the conditions under which I work and try to make time for Critical Distance a little bit easier to bear. The last couple days have been nothing short of stunning and the words do not exist to adequately express my gratitude.

So I’ll try large fonts.

THANK YOU!

Critical Distance alum and very generous supporter David Carlton has written up a post making his case for why it would be nice if we can continue to see donations come in on the funding drive. The trip will likely be more expensive than I’ve budgeted and there are a lot of outstanding financial issues beyond the scope of the conference in March for which I would deeply appreciate the helping hand.

Recently I was denied for food stamps. This was the second time that I’ve applied and been rejected, and neither query was made as a spur-of-the-moment thing. My student loan repayment bills are starting to come in. My insurance has rejected every claim to help me cover desperately needed medical costs and recently I was hit with yet another large charge for unmade payments to one of my care providers. No matter how I run the numbers or how much I tighten my belt (and it’s quite tight- I’m averaging three days between solid meals and for as much as I could probably do with some dieting, that isn’t how steady weight loss works), I am just not earning the money I need to be making if I want to keep living in my current place, receiving the care and paying for the medication I need to keep functioning… far less run a volunteer operation like Critical Distance on the side. I’ve been looking into moving up to the San Francisco Bay Area for a while now but though I have a few friends up there with whom I’ve discussed getting a place together nothing has yet gelled, and even if it did, I couldn’t afford the moving costs. It’s really about as stuck in a rut as it’s possible to get.

I’m not by any means asking to be lifted wholesale out of my present situation and exonerated from all responsibility, financial or otherwise. I believe in hard work (I think you’ll find most people do) and in climbing out of whatever pit into which I’ve dug myself. Even sharing the details of my current hardship goes against everything I was brought up to believe was appropriate: talking about money is gauche, talking about not having it is humiliating, and so on and so forth. It was difficult to set up something like a funding drive. In fact, not even 12 hours prior to posting it I was having a backroom panic about needing to quit C-D, leave my current social circles, and, as these things go when one has a mental illness, take more drastic actions with myself… So the fact that we made our funding target so quickly only shows me that a great many people –friends, colleagues, readers, even total strangers– already sympathize with what I’m going through and know that this isn’t the equivalent of asking for a handout. And for that, I am extremely grateful.

Any support I receive from here on out is definitely a bonus, much-needed and deeply welcome, and if you will take the time to consider sending a little bit of cash my way on top of the amount that has already been raised I can promise you that it will be put to good use. I am thankful to all the support you have given me so far, whether in the form of a donation or sharing the link or just offering your moral support. It has all been wonderful. And I can’t wait to meet so many of you in March.

New Horizons

Late last month, Alan Williamson (whom many of you will recognize as half of Split-Screen and the man behind Critical Distance‘s latest incarnation of Blogs of the Round Table) approached me asking if I wanted to be in on a new webzine of his, Five Out Of Ten. The timing was short notice–he wanted to approach me for the next issue, but another contributor had had a scheduling conflict and needed to back out, leaving him a writer short for the premier issue–so I gathered up some ideas that had been kicking around and tried putting them into words. They each came out decently–at least, enough so that I don’t stand out too awkwardly next to the likes of Brendan Keogh, Lana Polansky, Bill Coberly and Alan himself, all of whom are spectacular writers and whose work here is as grand as always.

The zine comes priced at £5.00, although you can donate a little more, if you like. The cool thing is that revenue for the magazine is split evenly among the five contributors, so basically if you pay £5, you’re paying each of us £1, which is cool because that means I can take that money and start saving toward the things I need to Write More Stuff for you, like coffee and antidepressants. That’s a pretty awesome cause, right?

Each author contributes two pieces to the collection, one pertaining to the theme “new horizons” and the other on a subject of the writer’s choice. Here’s a little preview of my two so you can sneak a peek before buying your very own copy, which is available as a DRM-free PDF suitable for most platforms.

Piece #1 – New Horizons – “Letting the Sunlight In”

On indie games, Papo & Yo and the virtue of an individual voice.

The final summit of Papo & Yo is set far above the familiar Brazilian favela in which the rest of the game takes place. Our player-character, Quico, travels above the clouds on a magical skylift which bears him and the monstrous alter-ego of his father toward the floating island of a mystical shaman. Around them, rusted iron siding and discarded tires float alongside the fragments of family homes, suspended weightlessly across the sky just as other improbable mountains of shacks and lean-tos rise up to meet them.

It’s a profoundly destablizing moment, even in a game premised on a departure from the normal laws of physics. What starts out as an imaginative trek through the muddy, rain-drenched city streets of a boy’s childhood adventuring spaces soon becomes an increasingly desperate escape from violence. Finally the world Quico has spent the entire game cleverly bending to his will is coming apart at the seams of its own volition, as reality starts to seep back in.

Piece #2 – Writer’s Choice – “Unfinished”

On the nature of unfinished things, unfinished people, and The Unfinished Swan.

“This is your college education,” my father says, waving a hand toward the home studio he had invested countless weekends into, to say nothing of far more money than his railroad job paid. It’s lined with hand-made sound insulation panels and stocked with enough recording equipment to make some professional studios green with envy. “So we all need to work together to make this record label work.”

In the end the biggest barrier to our father’s dreams of a music career is himself. Every weekend and most evenings he cloisters himself away inside his home-made studio, plucking at the same chords over and over, searching for a note that doesn’t exist. Later, he loads the recordings into his Mac and plays the clips again and again, iterating by degrees, never finishing. Eventually he scraps the whole song and starts over on guitar, plucking strings, never finding whatever it is that he’s listening for.

Sooner or later he’ll say that it’s our fault that he can’t find it.

-

The Unfinished Swan isn’t simply the title and explicit goal of the game; it’s the singular work which ties the family of three together, and provides the player with the game’s theme. Unfinished things, unfinished people. Children doomed by their genetics to the sometimes-beautiful, mostly-horrible agony of being artists. Of facing the void of boundless creativity and having to sort out the path to not going insane for themselves.

Those who enjoyed my previous bit in CTRL-ALT-DEFEAT on growing up among hoarders will recognize some resonance here–but hopefully not too much familiar territory. You can go buy your own digital copy of Five Out Of Ten now.

Happy Carl Sagan Day

Those who know me know that I tend to replace religious-themed cursewords with references to science and astronomy. I do this because when you have a religious upbringing, and more importantly, a difficult-to-curb habit of taking the lord-you-don’t-believe-in-anymore’s name in vain, you need to fill that void in your vocabulary somehow.

Turns out I’m not the only one who likes to allude to Carl Sagan as a kind of Christ figure: the Fuck Yeah! Carl Sagan tumblr is stuffed to the gills with photos of “What Would Carl Sagan Do?” shirts and tattoos of the good man replacing Jesus in a religious tableau. Some would say it rather defeats the point of atheism to hold up a scientist as a sort of spiritual icon… but that’s exactly what Carl Sagan was, and continues to be.

I’ve written before about finding spiritual fulfillment through science and technology. If Sagan left us with anything, it is the reminder that there is enough around us in our natural world that can inspire a lifetime’s worth of awe. For me, the presiding message of Cosmos –that we are all connected, that we owe our existence to the spin of electrons and the bindings on amino acids, that there is a line to be drawn from the first single-celled organisms to us– is tremendously powerful and emotionally uplifting. So, yes, I think it’s appropriate to think of Carl Sagan as something on the order of a messenger from the stars.

And so, a Merry Saganmas to one and all. Go make some apple pie.

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